Special to Reflector-Chronicle
COLUMBUS — The Abilene Rebels Senior Babe Ruth baseball team took part in the Babe Ruth 16-18 state tournament last week in Columbus, and played in three close, tough games. Abilene played Grant County (Ulysses) in its opener on Thursday and lost a hard-fought battle 5-2. That loss had Abilene again playing on Thursday; this one would be the evening prime time game against the host Columbus right after the Opening Ceremony of the tournament. The Rebels again played well but come up just short in a 4-3 loss. In their third game late Friday afternoon, Abilene battled a good Wellington team into the sixth inning with a 2-1 lead, but eventually fall 12-2.
In the opener, Grant County put three runs up on the board in its first at-bat as the visiting team with three hits and a sacrifice. The Rebels got a run of their own in their half of the inning when Bryce Riekeman was hit by a pitch and later scored on a wild pitch.
Abilene got another run across the plate in the third inning as Kaden Coup singled, stole second base, and later scored on a sacrifice by Glen Friederich to make the score 3-2.
Grant County extended its lead in the fourth with one run on three hits. They added another run in the fifth inning as well. The Rebels tacked on a run in the fifth inning as Coup led off with a single and later scored on a double from Riekeman to make it 5-3.
Abilene had an opportunity to score again in the sixth inning when Jayshaun Jones had a one-out single and Camden Meeks followed with a walk, but they were left stranded. The Rebels had their two, three, and four-hole hitters up in the seventh, but they went down in order.
“This was a game between two pretty evenly matched teams in my opinion,” said Abilene coach Billy Hansen. “We were, uncharacteristically, not very good at the plate in striking out nine times (tied a season-high). It was the first time for most of these kids to play in a state tournament at this level, so maybe there was some nervousness, I don’t know. But yet we continued to battle and had opportunities,” Hansen continued.
Offensively for Abilene, Coup was 2-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base. Riekeman went 1-2 with a run scored, was hit by a pitch twice, and had a RBI.
On the mound for the Rebels, Coup got the start in going six and a third innings striking out seven, walked none, hit two batters, and allowed five earned runs. Roman Sanchez threw the final two-thirds of an inning striking out none, walked one, allowed two hits and no runs. Abilene committed just one error on defense in the game.
In the contest with Columbus, the Rebels again played from behind but made things interesting down the stretch. Columbus scored two runs on four hits in its first at-bat as the home team. They added an additional run in the second inning on two hits and an error all with two outs and another run in the fifth inning on a walk, stolen base, hit batter, and a single for a 4-0 lead.
Abilene had trouble getting anything really going offensively through five innings, but it came to life a bit in the sixth inning. Ben Short led-off with a single and Coup followed with another single. With one out, Riekeman reached on an error that allowed a run to score and Friederich hit a big two-run double to the centerfield fence. He would be stranded though after two consecutive groundouts to the left side of the infield.
In the seventh inning the Rebels continue to fight. Jones led-off with a single, but then an attempted bunt was popped up and Jones was doubled off at first. Short then walked, and replaced by pinch runner Peter Garcia. Garcia moved to second on a wild pitch, and then get to third base on a single from Coup. With the tying run 90 feet away, a strikeout ended the game at 4-3, as Columbus hung on.
“We were right there with another good team,” Hansen said. “We again struggled a bit to get anything going offensively early. Their big lefty was good, but we hit him okay – just couldn’t find any holes. Glen got touched up bit early on the mound (six hits the first two innings, three total the rest of the game), but settled in and gave us a chance in his last pitching performance for his career with us,” continued Hansen.
On the mound for Abilene, Friederich got the start in going five and a third innings striking out eight, walked three, hit a batter, allowed nine hits, and three earned runs. Taplin went the final two-thirds of an inning striking out none, walked none, allowed no hits and no runs.
Abilene again committed a lone error on defense for the game. Offensively for the Rebels, Short went 2-2 with a run scored and a walk. Jones was 2-3 and Coup went 2-4 with a run scored, while Friederich was 1-3 with two RBI.
In the final game with Wellington, Abilene was in a dogfight until the sixth inning. Neither team got a hit through the first two innings. However, Wellington did get a run across after a dropped third strike allowed a batter to reach safely. He stole both second and third bases and scored on a passed ball.
In the bottom of the third inning, Wellington got a one-out single. But a nice double play turned by the Rebels ended any threat.
In the top of the fourth inning Abilene get on the scoreboard as Sanchez led-off with a single and stole second base.
With two outs, Carter Taplin was hit by a pitch. Seth Hokanson then followed with a single up the middle to drive in Sanchez. However, Taplin and Hokanson were stranded. Wellington got a lone base runner on a single that would steal second but he would be stranded after the next three batters would go down in order on defensive plays by the Abilene infield.
In the fifth inning Abilene took the lead with a run as Meeks led-off by being hit by a pitch, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch.
Short then walked, followed by a single from Coup to drive in Meeks. Coup would be stranded. Wellington went down in order in its half of the inning, again, all on defensive plays on the Abilene infield. The Rebels led 2-1 after five innings.
The sixth inning was the crucial point in the contest. Abilene got a one-out double from Taplin, followed by an infield single from Hokanson that allowed Taplin to get to third base.
Jones had a sacrifice on the infield that moved Hokanson to second base, but a strikeout ended the Abilene threat.
Wellington got back-to-back singles to lead off the inning. Then came a bunt. Abilene’s pitcher Sanchez fielded it and the Wellington runner on third broke for home and Sanchez ran at the runner who was almost halfway down the baseline. Sanchez threw the ball a bit too late to third base, rather than first base, and the runner was safe.
The next batter hit a shallow fly ball to centerfield that was caught for the first out, however the bases remained loaded.
Then came two consecutive hit batters for the tying and go-ahead runs for Wellington. This woke up Wellington, as they followed with six consecutive hits to blow the game open, followed by an error, a walk and then a two-RBI single for the run-rule. The game ended 12-2 in the sixth inning.
“We gave them (the dropped third strike in the second inning) one run through five innings and then the floodgate opened,” said coach Hansen. “I’m super-proud of how this team fought in this game against a veteran team like Wellington (ended up being the runner-up in the tournament). They lose a lot of players after this season, just like we did last year. We had a lead, and the pressure was on Wellington, and they responded. We just needed a couple of things to not happen like they did, and the outcome could have been different. We were a little thin on pitching to begin with, but the guys we had gave us everything we could have asked for. They (Wellington) only had two hits through five innings, but the walks and hit batters hurt.”
On the mound for the Rebels, Sanchez got the start in going five and two-thirds innings striking out one, walked one, hit four batters, allowed 10 hits, and 10 earned runs. Taplin threw a third of an inning striking out none, walked one, allowed one hit and one earned run. The Rebels had two errors in the game defensively. Offensively for Abilene, Hokanson was 2-3 with a RBI. Coup, Sanchez, and Taplin had the other hits.
“I’m really proud of how we came to this tournament and competed,” said Hansen. “The Babe Ruth State Tournament is always a neat experience, and I’m glad the players had this opportunity. We played hard and we took care of the baseball for the most part in only having four errors in the three games. This team showed they can play with good teams and showed they can make plays defensively.
We need to carry this into the off-season and do the same thing when the school baseball season comes back around.
“I was also very proud of our attitudes, and how we conducted ourselves on and off the field while we were here. We heard a lot of nice compliments about our players from the local folks. That was a good way to represent Abilene. I would like to thank Glen Friederich and Bryce Riekeman for their years of playing for our team, Glen for five seasons and Bryce for four. These young men have made our team better and helped contribute to four consecutive trips to the state tournament,” continued Hansen.
Abilene finished the season with a record of 11-9-1, sixth place at the state tournament and it received the team Sportsmanship Award at the state tournament.